Notre Dame’s Independence: A CFP Barrier?

The NCAA will expand the College Football Playoff format this upcoming season to 12 teams. It has been announced the top four seeds will be the highest-ranked conference champions, and they will receive a first-round bye, while seeds five through 12 will play each other, giving the highest-ranked seed a home-field advantage.

For a team like Georgia, that’s excellent news, considering their one-and-only loss came in the SEC Championship game, which left them out of the CFP. If a team slips up during the season, it doesn’t completely shatter their chances of competing for a National Championship.

However, for an independent team, it can be an inconvenience. Three FBS independents exist in the 2024 season: University of Connecticut, UMASS (which will join the Mid-American Conference in 2025), and Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have appeared twice in the CFP semifinals. The first time was during the 2018-2019 season as the third seed, and again during the 2020-2021 season as the fourth seed. The Fighting Irish aren’t unfamiliar with the CFP, but the circumstances will be different this upcoming season, which leaves them with a significant decision.

They must join a conference if they want a “fair chance” in the CFP.

Notre Dame’s Independence: A Barrier For The CFP?

Conference Realignment

College football has made significant changes, and this upcoming season will look very different. We’ll see two historic programs like Texas and Oklahoma with an SEC patch on their jerseys, the Pac-12 has imploded, and some West Coast teams have brought their talents to the Big Ten. With conferences being mix-and-matched, could Notre Dame consider joining a conference?

It’s understandable why they chose to command their independence due to broadcasting rights and scheduling flexibility. A prestigious program like Notre Dame with a national footprint will bring in TV ratings and monetary gain, especially if they’re good. However, with the recent announcement from the NCAA and the possibility of being negatively affected by the new CFP format, would you consider joining a conference if you’re Notre Dame?

Florida State Out? Notre Dame In?

After an undefeated season and an ACC title, Florida State was left out of the CFP. The move by the CFP committee caused outrage from Mike Norvell and FSU, and they’re considering leaving the ACC. Although there hasn’t been a completed deal, FSU could be out the door, inviting Notre Dame to join. The Fighting Irish already play five ACC opponents every year, and with the new layout of the CFP, they may need to consider becoming a full-time member.

Here’s the dilemma for Notre Dame. If they finished with an undefeated record and even got as high as the number one ranking, they would at best be the fifth seed when the CFP committee did their final rankings. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but they wouldn’t “qualify” for one of the top four seeds because they aren’t in a conference. So yes, Notre Dame could get the short end of the stick, but joining a conference could save them, and they aren’t unfamiliar with being an ACC member.

Notre Dame joined the ACC during the COVID year in 2020 and had a successful season. They would finish with a 10-2 record, go undefeated in conference play, and play in the ACC Championship game but fall short to the Clemson Tigers.

Future Endeavors

Notre Dame won’t be joining a conference this upcoming season, which could hurt around late January, especially if they’re sitting at 12-0 when it’s time for the committee to decide who’s in and who’s out. With an intense 2024 schedule, which includes Texas A&M, Louisville, Florida State, and USC, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they’re sitting in a position to make the CFP.

This upcoming season will be a test run for Notre Dame and the CFP committee. A 12-team playoff if there is a possibility of the Fighting Irish, but to avoid being completely robbed of fairness from the committee, becoming a conference member is something Notre Dame may have to consider.


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